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Adams honors Biggie Smalls ahead of Brooklyn icon’s would-be 50th birthday

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A mural commemorating Brooklyn icon Biggie Smalls in Bed-Stuy.
Scott Beale via Creative Commons

The late rapper Biggie Smalls would have turned 50 years old on Saturday, May 21, and this week the borough’s most enduring hip-hop icon is being honored for his outstanding achievement in spreading love the Brooklyn way.

Biggie — government name Christopher Wallace, and also known as the Notorious B.I.G. — was honored by Mayor Eric Adams and his son, CJ Wallace, on Thursday with a proclamation declaring May 21, 2022 as “Big Day” in the City of New York, in recognition of his “titanic” impact on rap.

“The only thing that gives us immortality is what we do when we’re alive, and his immortality is real because the music is still here,” Adams said at City Hall on May 19, before presenting a proclamation to Biggie’s son C.J., who was a baby when his father died but is now, at 25, older than he was at his death. “He put Brooklyn on the map, and no matter where you traveled to, he loved Brooklyn and Brooklyn loves him.”

Mayor Eric Adams shakes hands with CJ Wallace, the son of Biggie Smalls, as the city celebrates the late rapper’s 50th birthday.

Meanwhile, the MTA is honoring the brilliant wordsmith with limited edition Biggie MetroCards at four subway stations near his home in Clinton Hill. The Barclays Center will dedicate the jumbotrons above its entrance to Biggie’s videos, while across the East River, the Empire State Building will be lit in red with a crown on its mast in his honor.

Biggie was highly acclaimed as a rapper during his lifetime, considered one of the foremost ambassadors of East Coast hip-hop during the 1990s and a pioneer of gangsta rap. But his career was tragically cut short in 1997 when he was assassinated by a still-unknown shooter at just 24 years of age.

The MTA is distributing limited edition Biggie Smalls MetroCards at subway stations in Clinton Hill.Marc A. Hermann/MTA

The “Juicy” rapper was born and raised in Brooklyn, residing on St. James Place in Clinton Hill, and his lyrics acutely reflected on the borough’s daily grind, as well as his own troubled upbringing. He remained in Brooklyn after becoming famous, living in an apartment in Fort Greene with his family before his death.

Though he was widely feted during his short lifetime, his Life After Death has seen his legacy reach the stratosphere, with his face emblazoned on countless murals and his music still blasting throughout his home borough. He has been recognized in numerous music publications as one of the greatest rappers of all time, if not the GOAT.

C.J. Wallace was elated for the city his father loved so much to honor him in such a way.

“It does not feel real at all. It’s kinda scary. It’s in the ink, and it doesn’t feel real,” Wallace told Brooklyn Paper after receiving the proclamation. “It’s beautiful though. I know my grandma’s really proud.”

C.J. Wallace, son of Biggie Smalls, holds up a city proclamation declaring May 21, 2022 “Big Day” in his father’s honor.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

While the mayor touted his love for the Notorious B.I.G., he has not had such kind words for more contemporary styles performed by today’s young rappers, especially drill (a style of trap music), whose violent lyrical content and embrace of social media beef he claims has gotten many up-and-coming talents killed. Earlier on Thursday, he more-or-less compared drill’s impact on Black youth to the path of online radicalization for the white supremacist shooter in Buffalo. He said that social media should be monitored and threatening language should be removed.

“I have been speaking about this since we discovered what some of the drill music was actually doing,” Adams said on PIX11. “My conversation with YouTube and others, the goal is that you can use artificial intelligence to identify phrases and words that are associated with violence, and you can remove it and not allow it to continue to remain up on platforms. We heard the terrorists in Buffalo stated he didn’t get that hatred from his family, he got it from social media. It is really endangering our children, our young people, our community, and we need to be honest about it.”

A number of young drill artists have met a similarly violent end as did Biggie, such as Canarsie’s Pop Smoke, who was murdered in 2020 aged just 20, and now has a mural of his own in his neighborhood.

The mayor did not answer questions after the event, and a spokesperson declined to comment on the record, but said that while Adams does not denigrate young drill rappers, he does believe there is a connection between the genre’s lyrics and videos and violence on the streets, and that he wants to continue conversations with its ambassadors about stemming youth gun violence.

Wallace — whose father was often accused of celebrating gang culture in his lyrics in the 90s — said that everyone’s right to artistic expression should be validated and respected.

“Today’s hip hop world is a lot different from back in the day, but it’s artistic expression at the end of the day,” Wallace said. “I don’t think we have the right to judge or question that.”

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